This one's about a little more than just the scoreboard. This game goes directly to style.
Don't let Jack Del Rio's California roots or his handsome appearance fool you. There's nothing cute about the way he wants to play football. He's a product of the old AFC Central; he likes the rust-belt game.
"You bring that extra chinstrap and you go play," Del Rio said of the mind-set that accompanies a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Del Rio was asked a question at Wednesday's press conference that referred to the way the Steelers and Titans have always liked to play, which is to say smash-mouth football. "And the Ravens, too," Del Rio countered.
He was an assistant coach in Baltimore when the Ravens, Titans and Steelers made the AFC Central the most physical division in the game, and he maintains the pride that goes with that style of football. Now, Del Rio has brought it to Jacksonville. He will make sure his Jaguars are fully prepared to play that kind of game this Sunday night against the visiting Steelers.
"They look very much like the Bill Cowher teams I've played against and coached against. He likes to play power football," Del Rio said.
Del Rio likes to play power football, too, and he made a point early this week in announcing his desire for an increase in rushing attempts. A graduate of the old AFC Central, which closed up shop in Del Rio's final season in Baltimore in 2001, the Jaguars coach wants to beat the Steelers at their own game.
"It's been proven over the years to be a successful formula," Del Rio said of an emphasis on a strong running game and staunch run-defense. "The quarterback has done a nice job of keeping drives alive and letting them run the ball more," Del Rio added, referring to rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a Steelers offense that leads the league by a wide margin in time of possession.
The Jaguars have the defensive tackles to hold up against the Steelers' inside running game, but there are concerns for containing Duce Staley on the perimeter. The Jaguars have lost to broken legs both starting defensive ends and now find themselves having to confront the Steelers with two defensive ends who are former linebackers and another end who is a rookie seventh-round pick.
"Nobody is going to feel sorry for us and we're not asking for pity. We're preparing to go out and play a game," Del Rio said. "Our approach is upbeat; prepare, play hard."
Staley will be in his comeback game after missing four weeks with a hamstring injury. He will share time with Jerome Bettis, who has reached the 100-yard rushing mark in each of the four games Staley has missed.
"It has to be a big thing for their organization to have a guy like him, a team guy. He's been a great player for a long time," Del Rio said of Bettis, who relinquished his starting running back job to Staley and embraced a new role as the Steelers' short-yardage and goal-line specialist.
All of a sudden, Bettis re-emerged as the living symbol of Steelers football. With each plow into the end zone – there have been 11 such occasions this season – Bettis further cements the Steelers' return to power football, following a 2003 season in which the team fell to an unprecedented 31st rush ranking. It is a statistic that embarrassed the Steelers and caused them to re-dedicate themselves to running the ball.
The Jaguars did the same at the midway part of the season. During their bye week, Del Rio announced his team would focus on a stronger running game in the second half of the season. Since then, the Jaguars have rushed for 544 yards in three games; 106 yards more than the Steelers have gained rushing in the same period of time.
"You know going in what kind of ballgame you're in for," Jimmy Smith said. "Coach Del Rio said get your hard hat and your lunch pail because it's going to be one of those nights."
It's going to be one of those old AFC Central nights.